The Left has the best track record with respect to controlling corruption, followed by the BJP, with the Congress in the rear. Apologists of the Congress would be quick to assert that often corruption is part and parcel of rapid growth. They are right. China, Indonesia and Malaysia are good examples where rapid growth over the last 30 years has also resulted in large scale corruption.
Conversely, it is also true that an obsessive desire to end corruption, as projected by Kejriwal and the Aam Admi Party (AAP), also negatively affects growth. Even the NGOs and international development agencies know that corruption is like an original sin (the others being illicit sex, drinking and envy) and cannot be ended. It can only be managed, as in the developed world, so that citizens do not encounter it in their daily lives and public finances are conducted with relative probity.
Shanta Devarajan, a World Bank economist, known for his innovative take on economic problems, like Swaminathan Aiyer, pointed out in 2010 that “quiet corruption” (the kind that that the average citizen encounters) costs the economy much more than “grand corruption” of the 2G, Coal-gate kind. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/AFRICAEXT/0,,contentMDK:22501207~pagePK:146736~piPK:146830~theSitePK:258644,00.html
“Quiet corruption” is the “rent” that a babu collects for delaying decisions (speed money); is a babu using her discretion to unfairly benefit someone (bribe); it is sending the government decision making process into a spin thereby benefiting someone who profits from the status quo (babu googly or red herring noting on file); it is habitually being averse to taking a decision (babu evasion).
The media reports (Indian Express, January 13, 2014) that Jayanthi Natarajan, the Environment Minister till recently, had stacked a huge bundle of files relating to clearances in her house. This instantly raises “corruption red flags”, at the very least, of “quiet” corruption.
What is odd is that of the 350 files returned to the office from her home, when she resigned, 180 files had not even been seen by her! at least there was nothing on file to indicate that she had. Even odder, she had seen and signed 119 files but had held them back in her home. Why and for what reason? An additional 50 files, signed by the Minister, were in possession of her staff! Not reading files and keeping them in the “in tray” is a classic red flag for corruption hunters. Signing files but holding on to them is an even more significant corruption red flag. Letting her staff hang on to signed files is the biggest corruption red flag.
Despite the plethora of red flags it is a sign of low expectations from the present government that this case has not raised the kind of furor that coal-gate had. If a babe had committed these sins she would have been hanged by the government but when it comes to Ministers the rope is very, very long.
The BJP, which is the most likely party to form the next national government, or be instrumental in supporting a minority government, must draw the correct lessons, as must Kejriwal and the AAP.
First, just by ensuring that the offices of Ministers do not become clog-holes of files and insisting on time bound dealing of files, by everyone in the chain, corruption can be hugely reduced.
Second, Sarkari corruption hunters like the CVC and now the Lokpal must zero-in on cases of frequent submissions of files and reversion with queries, the favourite babu trick of avoiding a decision.
Third, it is high time, India, at least at the national level, abandoned paper files for electronic functioning as in any other modern day country. Electronic filing and processing has the advantage of security; instant file tracking; generation of management information on “clog-holes” of undealt files; audit of who accessed the file at what time and the changes made therein.
Fourth, the advantage with digitizing government functioning is the heightened levels of seamless transparency which become possible. Managing the information requirements of the Right to Information Act will become a lark with complete digitization, since all it would require is to find the data and email it or print it out.
The economy needs a kick start. What better way than to target complete digitization of government functioning from 2016. The international experience shows that corruption levels drop precipitously when “big brother” is watching as is possible in real time electronic processes. Of course this only works in regimes where “big brother” himself is not corrupt.
One thought on “Corruption Red Flags and the Original Sin”
The idea about e files if implemented could work wonders. The level of transparency it would generate would automatically curb delays. You would see immediately who was sitting on the file. Another help would be not rejecting the file on minor technical defects. If some minor discrepancy is there it could be notified with the applicant given the right to make corrections online.
It is doubtful that any of the established parties would go for such a transparent system.
Kejriwal seems the only possibility. Kejriwal and co should focus on these systemic changes and make going after crooks the second priority.